At certain times in our lives, we struggle even with the things that would typically bring us great joy. I happen to love my work and I have an incomparable network of family and friends who are always available and always supportive. My prayer life and my faith have been at the foundation of my days, and even in difficult times, I’ve found it easy to turn to God in prayer and lay my troubles at his feet. But this month – this eleventh month – has tested me. My joy has been compromised and even though time usually seems to pass by in a blink, I feel that this month has lasted infinitely longer than it needed to.
Many of you know that my father passed away on November 3. It was not really sudden, as he has been in very poor health for many years. But when recovery and homecoming are expected, the grief cuts deeply when you are faced with a change in circumstance and the world is suddenly turned upside down. Since that day, I feel a little bit numb. I’ve normally felt drawn to God in prayer but I’ve had trouble focusing and staying connected. I am normally asleep moments after my head hits the pillow and I just find myself staring at walls and my mind racing around in circles. Even as his funeral approached I went into work mode and was able to help plan and execute a beautiful Mass without much trouble at all. This, I attributed to: “It just hasn’t all sunk in yet.” But, perhaps, it was all done through the secret grace of God.
I’ve also been on the road to a divorce for the past 21 months and it has been a long and winding one, to say the least. This month, it was all finalized and the process is finally complete. In many ways, I’ve felt like a failure – as a wife, as a mother, as a woman, and even because of my job. I thought that when it was all over I’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief, but it really became a lingering reminder of all the ways in which I could have done better. All the decisions I could have made differently. All the roads not taken and the words left unspoken.
And, in this eleventh month, we are reminded year after year of the sacrifices that our veterans and their families have made on behalf of this country. Ultimately, we are all one Body of Christ and we’re all traversing this insane world right now – together. But this world that our friends and family members in the military have fought so hard to protect is under attack on all fronts. We’re being compromised politically, socially, and morally, and it’s nearly impossible to make sense out of it all. One news channel says one thing, the next channel says another. No one is right. Everyone is wrong. And for the first time in a long time, I have this hard-to-shake fear about what kind of world is being left to my children. I’m afraid to watch the news anymore and I feel like things are just spiraling out of control.
But even in the midst of all this sadness and anxiety and overwhelming grief, I was reminded today of one important thing: even Jesus was not exempt from sorrow. In John’s Gospel, we find the shortest and arguably the most affecting of all the verses in Scripture. “And Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Jesus, himself, experienced such authentic human emotions that he was filled with sorrow and sadness to the point of tears. Even God the Son was not spared when it came to experiencing times of great trouble. But what do we do with this? How does this apply to me now? How do I use this to help dig myself out of this funk? How is my writing about it going to help me now or help anyone else?
For these answers, I turned to another one of my go-to books in the Bible – the book of Romans: “… but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
So, if you’re also struggling right now, or if you can just relate to feeling down once in a while and maybe this season of joy and Thanksgiving has left something to be desired in your heart, I want to encourage you to stick with me on this one. Let’s make this an Advent truly filled with hope. Stop feeling guilty for things, stop over-apologizing or over-analyzing, and just live in the moment and experience the hope of the season. Seek for your afflictions not to erode your hope, but to weather your soul like a fine and precious stone. Turn that hope into a plan for better spiritual and emotional health. Go to Adoration. Take solace in your family and friends. Cry with Jesus if you must, but hold your head up high and know that “hope does not disappoint.”
Reflecting on Thanksgiving Day, I am truly thankful. I am thankful for my children and my family. I am thankful especially for the 40 years I got to know my father, for he was the definition of a selfless and dedicated man. I am thankful for the strength that I see in my mother and my brother during such a time as this. I am thankful for the listening ear of a friend when all I need to do is vent and a hug that goes on long enough that it turns my sadness into laughter. I’m thankful for the helping hand of a neighbor willing to bring up my garbage cans while I’m away and look after my home. I’m thankful for my daughter’s teacher and her infinite patience and concern. I’m thankful for a hand to hold – both in friendship and in prayer. The same hand that has lifted my spirits and helped me find things within myself that I never knew I was capable of. I’m thankful for the roof over my head, the food on my table, and the warmth of my bed - the things I am fortunate enough to have that so many others do not. And I'm thankful that my faith in God helps me to not give up on myself.
Ultimately, I’m thankful for this eleventh month. In its 30 days of existence, it has taught me how to look beyond the heartache and regret and see something much greater – the promise of a brighter tomorrow and a renewed trust in God’s plan. For even when I am preparing to lose, or trying to hide from God because I’m ashamed or feel unworthy – he is infinitely patient and loving. He has poured out his love for us and it is precisely in these moments (or months) of intense doubt and questioning that he yearns for us even more.